Pilgrimpace's Blog


One of the highlights of the time in Italy was a day’s pilgrimage to Assisi.

On a hot morning, we found a car park outside the city and followed a stream of pilgrims walking up a dusty road through the countryside.  We climbed some steps and were next to the Walls.  Our journey took us first to Saint Claire’s Basilica.



One of the most moving parts of this was spending some time praying in front of the San Damiano Crucifix, the Icon, originally the ruined Chapel of San Damiano, through which Christ commanded Francis to “Repair my Church for it is falling down”.


In amongst the bustle and busyness of one of the big pilgrim destinations, it can be difficult to get a purchase on things.  As we walked through the town we passed The Pilgrim’s Oratory.  This was built in 1457 as the Chapel of a Pilgrim Hostel by the Confraternities of St Antony Abbot and St James of Compostella.


It is now in the care of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Assisi as a place for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  We found this a beautiful and necessary place to pray quietly.

Walking to the other end of the Assisi, we reached the Basilica of St Francis.


We entered the lower Church first (to the bottom left of the picture).  On the darkness here we journeyed to the Tomb of Francis.  Among the relics which are on display is his tunic, speaking so much of the utter poverty of his life and way.


Then the Upper Church with its light and the frescoes telling the story of Francis’ life.

picture from Wikipedia Commons

picture from Wikipedia Commons

Fresco by Giotto, from Wikipedia Commons

Fresco by Giotto, from Wikipedia Commons

There was still much to see, but this was enough for a day, enough to spend time pondering, reflecting, feeding on.  We had not originally planned to go to Italy, but – as so often with St Francis – I find myself being drawn close to him, his family, his way, without seeking it.

leaps and bounds

One of the joys of this time of year is Carol Services.  I spent a lot of last week with schools beginning with classes coming to Church to learn about how we observe Advent and then Carol Services and Christmas Assemblies, joining in with the excitement and happiness of the children; Christmas anticipated early before the end of term.  The privilege of telling and singing and hearing again the Christmas story, and of seeing it through the eyes of the very young.  Yesterday evening members of St Bede’s and neighbours joined together to sing carols and hear Bible readings in beautiful candlelight.

And this afternoon we have a special Carol Service at St Gabriel’s, Weoley Castle.  Since the early 1960’s, the RSPCA have had an Animal Centre and Hospital at the bottom of Barnes Hill.  Unfortunately, it has now become outdated and too small.  The RSPCA are raising money through The Leaps and Bounds Appeal for a new state of the art centre in Frankley.  As you will see, this is needed; in November 22 dogs, 63 cats and 17 small animals were rescued.

We are very pleased to be hosting the RSPCA Carol Service to support this.  Concern for animals and their welfare is a key part of Christian faith and discipleship.  At Christmas, we hear the words of Isaiah Chapter 11 with its vision of peace and love between animals and humans.

We are drawn to the Crib with the animals surrounding the Christ Child along with Mary, Joseph and the shepherds.  The Crib was first used for Christmas devotions by St Francis of Assisi who, as well as being the friend and brother of animals, calls us much deeper, into an essential humility that puts us into a right relationship with God the Creator, all creatures and the whole creation.

We might also remember that the RSPCA, the first national animal welfare society in the world, was founded by the Anglican priest Arthur Broome in 1824.  Broome gave up his parish to work unpaid for the SPCA and was imprisoned for its debts.

We would love to have you with us this afternoon.  The service starts at 4.30pm and will be filmed by Central News.  When it finishes, there will be a candlelight procession down Barnes Hill and refreshments at the Animal Centre.  At some point between 6 and 6.30 there will be a live Christmas Blessing of the Centre on Central News.

the marquis of ripon purchases the convent of san damiano
September 20, 2011, 6:23 pm
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Up a steep hill and out of town,

looked after by a shuffling, aproned verger

doubling as a housekeeper to the priest

was Ripon’s Roman Catholic Church,

St Wilfred’s; where Lord Ripon lit the first

eager candles of his conversion.

Was it there that the idea first came to him

to buy back San Damiano’s from the State,

at a time when places such as those

were realising very low prices?

He thought of all the place had meant to him

(cicadas, cypress, thyme,

the ancient conjunction of wood and stone,

the lack of any compulsion to respond)

when he had visited there with his friend

and water-colourist, WB Richmond.

The Count of Cavour would have knocked it down,

used the benches for levering gun carriages

out of the mud in his fight against the Austrians,

and stolen the brittle, silver hair,

probably not St Clare’s, and used it

for stuffing King Victor Emmanuel’s footstool.

But there, Francis heard the crucifix speak,

and Clare wrote letters to Blessed Agnes of Prague

signing herself ‘useless handmaid’.

For these and other reasons, Lord Ripon paid

all those noughts of lires

arguing over the exchange of currency

and mistranslations, so that the nuns

could filter back under no pressure to be useful.

San Damiano’s, the place where Francis wrote

Il Cantico di Frate Sole, under its Yorkshire landlord

was returned to an acre of grace.

David Scott

trusting surrender
June 29, 2011, 3:39 pm
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“The Gospel, continuing the long-standing testamentary spirituality of the anawim (the poor and humble ones of Yahweh), postulates a spirit of total availability and trusting surrender to God and brothers and sisters.  We receive everything from God, and as such, everything we receive comes to us; we are almsgivers before God; we are to keep nothing for ourselves, but rather, all that we have and are must be placed at the service and need of others and of the will of God.  This Gospel spirit is indispensible in order to belong to the Kingdom; this is the anthropological project of Christians.  To be poor is the same thing as being simple, detached, ready to give and receive.  This is the meaning of Matthew’s version of the Beatitude of the poor (Matt 6:3).  The opposite of this form of poverty is Pharisaism, bragging, arrogance, and self-promotion, so criticized by Jesus in his Gospel.  To opt for the poor means, then, to opt for a radical conversion of the heart in the face of a culture of hubris, of self-affirmation, of autonomy at the side of the domination of others, support and exultation of the strongest, most intelligent, and most powerful.  Jesus lived this radical way of life to the point of surrendering his own life.  To follow Jesus is to appropriate this ethic.”

– Leonardo Boff  Francis of Assisi

May 5, 2011, 6:19 pm
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Start by doing what is necessary,

then do what is possible;

and suddenly you are doing the impossible

– St Francis

April 9, 2011, 11:04 am
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Francis, the Little Poor Man, lived a radical expropriation as a form of solidarity with the poor and with the poor Christ.  The meaning of human life is not found in creating riches but fraternity; it is supported not by having but by being one with and compassionate towards all creatures.

– Leonardo Boff Francis of Assisi

a franciscan christmas blessing
December 23, 2010, 12:45 pm
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May God bless you with discomfort…
at easy answers, hard hearts,
half-truths ,and superficial relationships.
May God bless you so that you may live
from deep within your heart
where God’s Spirit dwells.

May God bless you with anger…
at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people.
May God bless you so that you may
work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears…
to shed for those who suffer from pain,
rejection, starvation and war.
May God bless you so that you
may reach out your hand
to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with
enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference
in this world, in your neighborhood,
so that you will courageously try
what you don’t think you can do, but,
in Jesus Christ you’ll have all the strength necessary.

May God bless you to fearlessly
speak out about injustice,
unjust laws, corrupt politicians,
unjust and cruel treatment of prisoners,
and senseless wars,
genocides, starvations, and poverty that is so pervasive.

May God bless you that you remember
we are all called
to continue God’s redemptive work
of love and healing
in God’s place, in and through God’s name,
in God’s Spirit, continually creating
and breathing new life and grace
into everything and everyone we touch.

the irrepressible lightness and joy

Thinking a lot about the Kingdom of God at the moment in amongst a time of grappling with cuts, the difficult economic situation, a government which seems to offer little to those most in need.  How to work with all people of good will to cooperate with God in the coming of the Kingdom?

This is obviously not just a theoretical question, and I attempt to be deeply engaged in it in practice, not least in the ministry in my parishes.

We may find vision to lead us through this time in many places.

Lawrence Cunningham finishes his book Francis of Assisi: Performing Gospel Life with the following discussion of Hardt and Negri’s Empire:

The task of the militant is to shape affective networks within the set of social structures with no illusions of the possibility of transcending them.  Who might model such a form of life?  In a startling final paragraph, Negri says: consider the work of Francis of Assis.  Francis who opposed ‘nascent capitalism’ not by world-denying forms of asceticism, but by a ‘joyous life, including all being and nature, the animals, sister moon, brother sun, the birds of the field, the poor and exploited humans, against the will of power and corruption.’  This is the kind of revolution Negri wishes to model and hence his final sentence: ‘This is the irrepressible lightness and joy of being a communist’.

October 3, 2010, 6:33 pm
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This was a transitional time in my Camino a year ago.  I had walked the long, hard solo miles from Valencia to Toledo; immensely hard and immensely enjoyable.  I met my friends Roy and Karen, on holiday, walked a little with them, enjoyed their company hugely, and spent time with them visiting the tourist and Carmelite sights and sites in Avila and Toledo.

Then began the Third Stage.  I took the train on to Zamora.  I knew there would be other pilgrims walking up the Via de la Plata from Sevilla; I knew I could take my time, walk more slowly, be less driven, reach Santiago in time to reach my family who were coming out to meet me at Half Term.

I spent two nights in Zamora to look round this romanesque gem.  Over breakfast I met a man with a laden cycle.  Was he going to Santiago?  No, but he was cycling to Africa – put my exertions into perspective! Looked round the Cathedral and the Magdalena and ate a good lunch: rice with sausage, salt cod, creme caramel, wine, water, coffee.

I attempted a siesta and then went to find a Mass.  It was the eve of St Francis Day.  The bell was tolling and people were filing into the Church attached to the Clarisses Convent.  On top sat the only storks I saw in Spain.

There was Exposition, then Rosary, then Mass.  During the sermon, the priest broke down in tears.  The Third Order gathered around a habit for the Transitus, the service marking Francis’ death and committing us to following the Way of the Gospel.  Afterwards, they were very glad to meet an Anglican member of the Franciscan family.

I walked back with the priest, who spoke to each of the people begging for money, telling me who I should give money to and how much.  I sat in the Plaza Mayor, taking in all the day, wondering about tomorrow, reflecting on it all.  As my supper arrived, I wrote:

I need to reflect about the Incarnation and what the pilgrimage teaches about it – also about everything being material for prayer, being stripped back.

place of prayer

This is the mantlepiece in my study, one of the places I look when I am praying.  Here is the late afternoon sun.

Contemplating the picture, I am struck by how much this speaks of pilgrimage and of how, at the same time, it is so rooted in my being at home in ways that are about physical stillness.  There is the large photograph of the Portico of Glory.  I was given several of the icons and pictures while on the Camino, including one of the paintings of Christ Fray Luis at Oseira Monastery gives to all the pilgrims who stay there.

Perhaps this question around what it means to be a pilgrim – while not being on pilgrimage (and not going on a walking pilgrimage for a while) – is something that can be become more explicit and be pondered in the summer holidays.